We’re all taught how to wash our hands from an early age, but has that information really stuck? Sure, you probably use some soap and water to wash up, but effective handwashing is much more than that. Simply sticking your hands under the faucet for 3 seconds won’t cut it!

It’s time to get to the bottom of effective hand washing, why it matters, and how to be as clean as possible!

Why is Hand Washing Effective?

Hand washing is effective because it washes away the germs that your hands collect throughout the day. There are all different types of bacteria that can cause illness like E. coli and norovirus. Frequently washing your hands can reduce the chances of you contracting those illnesses.

Washing your hands is especially important during flu seasons or other times of illness like the COVID-19 pandemic. It may not 100% guarantee that you won’t get sick, but it greatly decreases the odds. It’s worth the extra effort!

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

To wash your hands properly, you should scrub them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to remove germs and bacteria. This is the most critical step to effective hand washing!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is how to properly wash your hands:

  • Step One: Get your hands wet with either warm or cold water. You can then turn off the sink and apply your soap.
  • Step Two: Lather the soap between your hands by rubbing them together. Don’t forget to lather the back of your hands, under your fingernails, and between your fingers.
  • Step Three: You should scrub your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Step Four: After scrubbing for 20 seconds, rinse your hands under running water.
  • Step Five: Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry.

Here’s a visual step-by-step guide:

It may seem like 20 seconds is a long time, but you’d be surprised how quickly it can pass once you make it part of your routine. It’s a small sacrifice for reducing the spread of illness!

Why is Friction Important When Washing Hands?

When you rub your hands together with soap and water, it creates friction. This is what loosens the dirt from your skin and allows it to be washed away! Without friction, the germs on your skin won’t be scrubbed off entirely. Be sure to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds to create the friction that’s needed for removing bacteria.

Think of it like washing your dishes. Sometimes, you just need to scrub a little harder to clean extra dirty pots and pans. If it weren’t for friction, your dishes and hands would never get clean!

Songs to Wash Your Hands To

Since the CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, you might be wondering how you’ll know when to stop without having to count to 20 each time! There are tons of 20-second tunes out there you can sing while you wash the bacteria away.

Here are some 20-second songs you can sing while washing your hands:

  • “Africa” by Toto
  • “Jolene” by Dolly Parton
  • “Raspberry Beret” by Prince
  • “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club
  • “Dancing Queen” by ABBA

“Africa” by Toto

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had”

Jolene” by Dolly Parton

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. Please don’t take him just because you can”

Raspberry Beret” by Prince

“She wore a raspberry beret
The kind you find in a secondhand store
Raspberry beret
And if it was warm, she wouldn’t wear much more
Raspberry beret, I think I love her”

Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club

“Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon
You come and go, you come and go
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams
Red, gold and green, red, gold and green”

Dancing Queen” by ABBA

“You are the dancing queen
Young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl, watch that scene, dig in the dancing queen”

Commonly Missed Areas in Hand Washing

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The areas that are forgotten the most during hand washing are thumbs, between fingers, and fingertips. You should scrub all areas of your hands each time you wash them, especially these spots!

Don’t forget to scrub under your fingernails as well. If you’re at home, you can use a fingernail brush that you keep under your bathroom sink to make sure it’s easily available. It may seem like an extra step, but it will help remove more germs.

Which Hand Wash is Best?

The CDC recommends using liquid soap or bar soap to wash your hands. As long as you are scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, the type of soap isn’t super important. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has even gone on record that there isn’t enough science to show that antibacterial soap is any better at preventing illness than regular soap.

Hand Washing Without Soap

 If you don’t have any soap on-hand, the best alternative is to use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. This will help kill germs even when you don’t have soap and water nearby!

According to the CDC, you should use enough sanitizer to cover all surfaces of your hands. Then, rub your hands together until they feel dry, which is about 20 seconds. It’s important to not wipe off the hand sanitizer before it dries, otherwise it might not kill the germs on your skin.

Hand Washing Statistics

Have you ever wondered how many people wash their hands properly? Maybe you’ve been questioning if hand washing can actually reduce the spread of illness. If so, you came to the right place!

Here are some quick stats about hand washing:

  • 95% of people wash their hands improperly. (Source: CBS)
  • Hand washing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%. (Source: CDC)
  • If everyone routinely and effectively washed their hands, it’s estimated that a million deaths could be prevented each year. (Source: CDC)
  • Proper hand washing plays a key role in preventing or slowing outbreaks. (Source: Global Handwashing)
  • It’s estimated that only 20% of travelers in an airport have clean hands. (Source: ScienceDaily)

How to Help Dry Hands from Over Washing

If you’ve been scrubbing your hands a lot lately, you may notice your skin getting dry more often. You can prevent this by applying lotion after each time you wash your hands! You should apply the lotion while your hands are still slightly damp to help seal in the moisture.

You can also wear rubber gloves while doing dishes or cleaning your house. This will prevent any harsh chemicals from getting onto your skin and limit the amount of water that comes in contact with your skin.

Pro Tip: To add some extra moisture into your home, consider running a humidifier. This will help improve your dry skin!

Hand washing is the simplest way to prevent the spread of illness. You should be sure to wash your hands properly after using the restroom, before eating, and after interacting with others. With just a couple seconds of your time and some soapy water, you’ll be on your way to wellness in no time!

References

Five Things You Might Not Know About Washing Your Hands. (n.d.). Retrieved May 26, 2020, from https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2016/10/global-handwashing-day-2016/

Commissioner, O. (n.d.). Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water. Retrieved May 26, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/antibacterial-soap-you-can-skip-it-use-plain-soap-and-water

Show Me the Science. (2019, November 26). Retrieved May 26, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/science/index.html

The why and the how of handwashing for little ones. (n.d.). Retrieved May 26, 2020, from https://www.safefood.eu/Healthy-Eating/Blog/Blog/September-2017/The-why-and-the-how-of-handwashing-for-little-ones.aspx

About the author

Kelsey Skager

Kelsey is a master of promotional products with over five years of marketing and industry experience. She is proud to have been featured on ABC 7 Chicago News and NPR.